More than 50 employees at Microsoft have spoken out against the company’s augmented reality contract with the US Military.
A letter circulated around Microsoft this past weekend has been backed by employees across a number of departments at the firm. The group has raised concerns that Microsoft’s headset, HoloLens, could be used to “help people kill”.
Released in 2016, HoloLens allows the wearer to interact with digital images immersed within real-life environments.
“Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the US Army’s ability to cause harm and violence,” the letter reads.
“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” it adds.
In November 2018, the company signed the $479 million (£367 million) Integrated Visual Augmented Systems (IVAS) contract with the US Military to develop a platform that could enable 100,000 soldiers to use augmented reality in combat scenarios.
In the past, Microsoft has provided technology to the US Military. However, employees believe this latest development is a step too far and will trivialise the reality of war.
“While [Microsoft] has previously licensed tech to the US Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract, it does,” the letter reads.
“The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game’, further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.”
Microsoft must stop its development of “any and all” technologies with military applications and implement policies to prevent future involvement, employees have demanded. In addition, the group has called for an “independent, external ethics review board” to be established to oversee the implementation and enforcement of new policies.
The employee revolt is not the first incident at Microsoft in the past 12 months. In June, employees spoke out against the firm’s involvement in US-Mexico border activities.
Employees demanded that the company stop providing services to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.
At the time, the company distanced itself from the administration’s border policies and insisted that Microsoft products were only used for standard administrative tasks.
Microsoft is not alone in regards to government contract controversy, either. In May last year, Google employees penned an open letter to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding that he cease the firm’s involvement in Project Maven.
Project Maven is a US Military programme aimed at using machine learning to analyse massive amounts of surveillance footage captured by unmanned aerial drones.
Read more: Google Military Contract Under Fire
At the time, employees insisted Google also commit to policies preventing company involvement in military projects and demanded that Pichai publish a statement committing that “neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology”.
Academics from around the world pledged their support for the employee revolt.
“We wholeheartedly support their demand that Google terminates its contract with the DoD, and that Google and its parent company Alphabet commit not to develop military technologies and not to use the personal data that they collect for military purposes,” the letter read.